Monday, October 15, 2007
Rowand became a folk hero in Philadelphia when he busted up his face running into the centerfield wall to make a catch in his first 2 months with his new team. And his contributions to the team go far beyond his .309 batting average, 105 runs scored, 27 homers and 89 runs batted in. He's a clubhouse catalyst, the guy who organizes the off-day get-togethers, who's always preaching the importance of putting the team ahead of individual egos.
That’s the conventional wisdom, anyway. I’m not so certain that the Phillies can re-sign him and even if they could, I must admit skepticism about whether or not Rowand would be worth the price.
Let’s start with a few observations. Aaron Rowand had a good season in 2007, hitting .309 (.374 OBP), with 27 Home Runs, 89 RBI and 105 runs scored. He also had 45 doubles. Rowand improved on his OBP by over fifty points, on his slugging percentage by ninety points, and doubled his Runs Created from 47 to 98 over 2006. He also improved his batting average with runners in scoring position by forty points.
Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
On-Base Percentage (OBP): How often a player gets on base. (H + BB + HBP) / (Plate Appearances)
Slugging Percentage (SLG): Total Bases / At-Bats = Slugging Percentage. Power at the plate.
Runs Created (RC): A stat originally created by Bill James to measure a player’s total contribution to his team’s lineup. Here is the formula: [(H + BB + HBP - CS - GIDP) times ((S * 1.125) + (D * 1.69) + (T * 3.02) + (HR * 3.73) + (.29 * (BB + HBP – IBB)) + (.492 * (SB + SF + SH)) – (.04 * K))] divided by (AB + BB + HBP + SH+ SF).
RC/27: Runs Created per 27 outs, essentially what a team of 9 of this player would score in a hypothetical game.
It was a good season for Aaron Rowand. Nice to put up good numbers in a walk year.
Last season the Anaheim Angels dropped $50 million dollars over five years on Gary Matthews, Jr., a centerfielder who was lucky enough to have a solid year for the Texas Rangers in the final year of his contract. Matthews numbers looked eerily like Rowand’s: .313 batting average, .371 OBP, 19 Home Runs, 79 RBI, 44 Doubles. He had 105 Runs Created for the Rangers. No doubt that Rowand’s agent has already ran the numbers on Matthews and made the determination that if Gary Matthews, Jr., can make $10 million a year, then a player with Aaron Rowand’s abilities could command $10-$12 million for a multi-year deal.
Using Matthews as an illustration, here are the perils of committing to re-signing Rowand: Matthews was a career .263 hitter (.336 career OBP) who bounced around from team-to-team (between 1999 and 2004 he played for the San Diego Padres, the Chicago Cubs, the Pittsburgh Pirates, the New York Mets, the Baltimore Orioles, the Padres again, before winding up in Texas). His numbers were never particularly good until 2006 rolled around. Having a career year in your walk year inflates your price and gives you leverage in salary negotiations. Matthews and his agent, Scott Leventhal, exploited those numbers to command his mega-deal from the Angels.
What happened? Well, first-off, Matthews became embroiled in the steroids controversy when it came out that he allegedly received HGH from a pharmacy as a Ranger, angering the Angels owner. Then he followed that up with a sub-par season at the plate: .252 batting average (.323 OBP), just 26 doubles, and forty fewer Runs Created. His 2007 numbers in fact closely mirrored his 2005 numbers, suggesting that 2006 was a fluke season.
So the Angels are stuck with an average centerfielder whom they are forking over $10 million bucks a year to. Of course their owner is a multi-millionaire who is determined to spend and win, but the Phillies cannot afford to be so free with their money.
So why might the Phillies money best be spent elsewhere? First off, the Phillies are aiming at keeping their $103 million dollar payroll right where it is now. Free agency defections might free up about $20 million or so for the Phillies, but they would wipe out about half that by re-signing Rowand. Consider also that the Phillies have a crying need for help at third base and want to add to the bullpen and starting rotation. The Phillies would be better off committing that $20 mil to adding a power-hitting third baseman and to adding some pitching, rather than re-signing Rowand when they have his successor, Shane Victorino – who made $410,000 in 2007, incidentally – waiting in the wings.
Second, are the Phillies certain that Aaron Rowand 2008 and Aaron Rowand 2009 are going to be the same player that Aaron Rowand 2007 was? As I mentioned, Rowand had something of a career year in 2007. His career OBP entering 2007 was .334, so his .374 OBP this season was something of a departure. He usually doesn't walk much, but he drew a few more in 2007. When Rowand took over as a regular in the White Sox lineup in 2004, he exploded, hitting 24 Home Runs, along with 69 RBI and 94 Runs Scored. He posted a then-career high 92 Runs Created. In 2005 and 2006, he posted much more meager numbers: 13 Home Runs, 69 RBI, 76 Runs Created in 2005, 12 Home Runs, 47 RBI, 47 Runs Created in 2006. I think that Rowand will probably regress somewhat in 2008, so the Phillies probably wouldn’t be getting the bat they think they will.
Defensively, Rowand has been a disappointment. Some background is in order here: in 2005, The Fielding Bible anointed Rowand the best defensive outfielder in baseball and one of the best defensive players generally in baseball at the time. According to TFB’s John Dewan, Rowand posted an astonishing +30 in Plus / Minus playing centerfield for the White Sox. He slipped in 2006, posting a -4 playing centerfield for the Phillies. Now, we won’t know Rowand’s Plus / Minus data until the new Bill James Handbook comes out, but it seems clear that Rowand won’t rank near the top, or honestly even in the middle. Of the N.L. centerfielders who logged 1,000+ innings of work in 2007, Rowand ranks sixth of seven in Relative Range Factor, which measures how often he made plays on balls hit into his zone of play. In 2006 he likewise ranked poorly.
So why should the Phillies, who have holes so many other places, devote 30-50% of their payroll to Rowand? Baseball is a hard business where you have to check your emotions at the door. I love the toughness and intensity that Rowand brings to the table, but that doesn’t over-ride the fact that the Phillies need to get help on the mound and need someone to play third base and doesn’t ground into inning-ending double plays. The Phillies have a just as capable replacement for Rowand waiting in the wings in Shane Victorino, a talented hitter with speed and power who actually played better than Rowand when he filled in for him in 2006. Unless Rowand gives the Phillies a steep hometown discount, I think the best thing for Pat Gillick & Co. to do would be to shake hands with Rowand and wish him the best as he leaves.
Offer arbitration and get draft picks if some team is going to give him 3 to 5 years at $8 to $10 per year.